A few interesting kanji

(note, throughout this post when I mention “my kanji dictionary”, I mean the website http://www.saiga-jp.com/kanji_dictionary.html)

I have come to wordpress with the purpose of bragging about some terminal-based RSS wizardry I have achieved today, but on the way to doing so I became side-tracked due to the title I thought up for that post, which involved some Japanese which I felt obliged to research a little before butchering.

So anyway, I ended up reading about a few Japanese words of interest to me and the kanji with which they are written (well, at least some of the time, I don’t know the language well enough to know what is ‘standard’). There were a couple of connections between words which I didn’t realise before, and a few that I knew (well, suspected strongly…) which were nice to see supported by the kanji.

Those of you who actually speak Japanese feel free to jump right in and correct any wildly inaccurate statements I might make :).

So first, here are some words for us to consider:

空手道 – からてこう – karatedou (karate-do)
柔道 – じゅうどう – jyuudou (judo)
合気道 – あいきどう – aikidou (aikido)
道場 – どうじょう – doujou (dojo)
剛柔会 – ごうじゅうかい – goujyuukai (goju-kai)

These are all martial-arts related words of course, and most of them practically English words by now. However, it appears that they are all spelled somewhat differently in Japanese to what I expected, which was the first surprising thing for me. I have been studing karate for quite a while now; you would think I would have known the correct way to say it in Japanese.

Well, at least the “karate” part is indeed how I expect it to be – only the “dou” part I had wrong. However the actual name of the organisation I study with, goujyuukai, is rather different to what I thought!

But anyway, to the associations. Firstly, if you examine the kanji, you will notice the character 道 (pronounced dou in these words) appearing several times. My understanding of this character was that it means “way” or “path” or “method”, this sort of thing (where there are both practical and spiritual connotations in there), so that karate-do meant roughly “empty-hand method”, or, a little more poetically, “the way of the empty hand”. Likewise for judo we have “soft/gentle method” or “the way of softness”, something like that, and for aikido, well I don’t really know, something about the way of ki (気, kind of tough to translate but my kanji dictionary lists all of {air, atmosphere, spirit, mind, heart, will, intention, feelings, a mood, nature, a disposition, attention, care, a sign, an indication}), though I still don’t know what the “ai” part really means (kanji dictionary says 合 – {match, fit, suit, join, combine, unite, coincide, agree}), but if I was forced to guess I suppose it must be something like “the way of harmonious spirit”, since I know aikido to be very non-violence based.

(I brushed over the meanings of a bunch of other kanji there, so let me quickly list them:

空 – “kara”, or empty. Again it means literal emptiness, but I have also been told it has Buddhist connotations, to do with concepts of no-mind, or void, and so on. This in itself deserves some extended study I think. The kanji dictionary lists meanings of {a sky, the sky, the air, the heavens, emptiness, vacancy, vanity, space, the void, empty, be free, vacate, feel fine}, which seems to support the notion that it is heavily burdened with culture.

手 – “te”, which as far as I know really does just means “hand” in this context. But who knows. The kanji dictionary agains lists a lot of meanings which I won’t bother with.

柔 – “jyuu” in both our cases; {soft, tender, gentle, mild, flexible})

So “dou” in this sense more or less made sense to me. However, to get to my point, I was quite surprised to see the “dou” in “dojo” was this same character 道. The kanji dictionary just lists “dojo” as “an exercise (training) hall”, which seemed straightforward. I suppose it makes sense as being the place in which you practice your “dou”, even superficially.

Still, looking up dou (道) on google gives me the following Chinese wikipedia page (http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%81%93), which, although I can’t read it, contains a great big yin-yang on one side. This seems to strongly imply that this “dou” is a Taoist concept, and indeed the characters above the yin-yang are “道教”, which Google translate tells me indeed means “Taoism”. It also tells me that the Chinese pronounciation is “Dàojiào”, so it seems that “dou” in Japanese does come quite directly from the Chinese. So one sees that “doujou” has deeply spiritual connotations! It is not simply a training hall; at least, not simply a place for training physical skills.

So I guess I will have to think deeper about these things some more. At least it is getting slightly easier to investigate some of these language issues as I learn a bit more Japanese. My skills are still pitiful, but slow and steady, or some such phrase.

Anyway that is certainly a large enough deviation from my original purpose, which was itself a serious deviation from other things I had planned to do tonight… so back to it!

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3 thoughts on “A few interesting kanji

  1. Pingback: The way of the command line | Everything Is Bayesian

    • Oh yes, thanks, that makes more sense than my poor attempt. I think I figured this out at some point after writing this post, actually, since that sounds famiiar. I think I was learning my verbs and was taught that 合う means “to meet”, and given the principles of aikido “meeting energy” or similar makes sense to me.

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